Gidday! I am very excited to contribute to The Madawaska Valley Current – a creative community-building endeavour. This is the first time I have been a columnist in a publication. I am grateful for the opportunity since I can consolidate two of my passions: the Madawaska Valley and writing.
I am here because of the Barry’s Bay Railway Station. I am writing for The Current because my interest in the Station (and a few letters of mine that were published) connected me with other like-minded folks. More importantly, I am here because my parents met at the Barry’s Bay Station when they were both working there during World War II. Without the Station I would not be in this world, and you would not be reading this column.
Immediately after they married in 1951, my parents moved to Lake Traverse in Algonquin Park where my father was the CNR station master. I came along almost fourteen years later and spent my earliest years there with visits to my grandparents in Barry’s Bay. With the exception of summer holidays, I spent most of my latter childhood and all of my adolescence in the Bay. I attended Barry’s Bay schools: St. Joseph’s (St. Mary’s – the red school), St. John Bosco and Madawaska Valley District High School. In 1987 I graduated from the University of Western Ontario in London with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and returned to the Bay for a year. Following that, I obtained my Bachelor of Education from Nipissing University in North Bay. My first teaching job was a stint at Bosco teaching Junior and Senior Kindergarten. Since September ’89 I have taught in Ottawa. Initially, I taught the primary grades, then the junior and intermediate grades, but I have been teaching high school English and philosophy for the last twenty-two years. I have always kept in touch with my Madawaska Valley roots and currently make Barry’s Bay my permanent home. Retirement from education is on the horizon, and my intention is to return full-time and make a positive contribution to this amazing community which formed me and gave me my start. You have no idea how often the particular brand of Madawaska humour and wisdom (Could we say the school of hard knocks?) have helped me in my job. There is nothing like a sharp, honest, Valley-style quip to re-direct a wayward adolescent (or colleague).
Some readers may remember that in 1987-88 I worked as a reporter for Barry’s Bay This Week when Phil and Helen Conway were the owners. In addition to writing news reports and features, I had opportunities to edit articles, work on layout, and deliver newspapers to outlets in the Killaloe-Whitney-Bancroft triangle. Sometimes my father stuffed fliers in the back of my Chev S-10 as we raced along the route. On other occasions I travelled with Phil who would buy scratch tickets at every shop, grocery store and gas station we visited. Since then I have written feature articles, usually on historical topics, for the former This Week and The Eganville Leader and various pieces for my local union newsletter. In 2007 I self-published a historical/genealogical work on the Kitts family and in 2010 I edited and published my mother’s memoir of life in Algonquin Park. Recently, I started a blog – The Prussian Hills Blog – where I hope to publish some musings but most importantly post information on local history — especially the history and genealogy of Germans in Renfrew County. If you are descended from Renfrew County Germans and you would like to share stories or ask questions, please contact me or visit my blog: prussianhillsblog.wordpress.com.
Thank you to the publishers of the Madawaska Valley Current for allowing me to call this column “Porch Views.” I chose this title because my porch is at a very busy intersection in Barry’s Bay. From porch rockers three generations of my family have observed the junction of Bay Street, Kitts Street and Highway 62 and commented on who or what was passing:
There he goes again to “Little Mexico.”
Doesn’t she ever stay at home?
Betcha that one’s off to the bootleggers.
She’s late for Mass … again.
Oh, oh — there’s the hearse coming from the hospital.
Those high schoolers are going to freeze their arses off in this cold.
Looks like there’s a big meeting at the Town Hall.
I think they’ve been to “the Quebec-Side.”
My porch vantage-point is a metaphor for my interest in, and unique perspective on, the “goings-on” in the Madawaska Valley. This column will highlight the richness of life in our Valley. Like past commentary on my porch, it will at times be humorous and uncomfortably honest, but it will always be interesting and entertaining. By profiling local events, personalities and politics, exploring issues, highlighting culture, the arts and history, I hope to encourage all residents (permanent and seasonal), visitors and friends to appreciate what we have and what we can build here if we have vision and a spirit of co-operation.
Next issue’s topic: Who is a Local? Diversity or Division in the Madawaska Valley